Despite my best efforts to keep this until Sunday, the news has leaked out of the new calling on our lives. Julie, Joshua and I are leaving. Last Sunday, we went in view of a call as the senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Midland, TX. With a unanimous vote, they called us and we've accepted. After consultation with our personnel committee and deacon leadership, we've set our final Sunday here as January 24.
I want to dispel the notion that Julie and I are leaving because of any particular situation or because we're upset. Quite the opposite. I'm more confident now about the direction of CBC than since I came here. No, we don't feel badly about CBC. Nor is our choice linked to the "bigger is better" idea. Instead, it's rooted in what I believe is the calling of the Spirit of God, just like it was when we came here. I operate on the idea of being called TO, not called FROM. Our departure is rooted in the firm conviction that we're not called FROM Central but rather TO FBC.
I know this is a shock to many of you and, as my family, I wanted to write this to you in hopes of helping you understand how the leadership of the Lord has brought us to this point. If time permitted, I'd sit down with each of you to tell you this personally, but since I can't, receive this as an expression of a shepherd's heart to those he loves.
I've literally never applied for a ministry position. They've always found me first (including CBC). For me, I feel like when that happens, the hand of God is on that portion in a tremendous way. Such is the case here as well. Let me tell you our story of 2015.
In February 2015, Brandon Pinson, the chairman of the search committee for FBC, called me for the first time. (Let me pause and say that's not terribly unusual. Throughout the course of church life, calls like this are made all the time. In the time we've been at CBC, I've gotten several. We even had one search committee show up at Central uninvited - a major faux paus in church-life. I was hot!) None of those were the right place or the right time, as made evident in our hearts and theirs. This time, however, was different. Furthermore, we told Brandon from the beginning that we were very happy at Central. A great team, a great church, a great home and community - we weren't interested in moving just for the sake of change. We agreed to prayerfully seek the Lord with no promises made from either end.
After the initial call, we waited. And waited. Finally, after several weeks, we presumed they had passed us by but hadn't notified us. No big deal. That happens too. We're happy at CBC so we saw it as the leadership of Jesus.
In early June, however, they called back. "Darin, we'd like to fly you and your wife out to Midland to meet with us." After much prayer and deliberation, we agreed. June 18th - a Thursday - we went out with one single prayer: if this is the right place and the right time, give us a clarity through the initial meeting with the committee. If we're a good fit with them, we'll continue should they ask us to. If not, we come home and press on with life here. During more than 25 years of ministry, I've been through a number of interviews. This was one of the best interactions I've ever had. We hit it off like old friends reuniting even though we had literally never met until then.
After the interview, we came home and waited. And waited. Finally, we presumed they'd moved on without us but hadn't notified us. Until late August, right about the time school started. They called back and said, "Darin, we'd like to bring you back out for a second talk." It took a few weeks for us to get our schedules to combine well, but we did indeed go on Oct 1. This time, however, was different. The first time we went in June was to talk about who were are. This time, it was about what we do. Again, our conversation went famously.
When we came home this time, the courtship changed course - now, both we and they were taking this much more seriously. Their search committee came to Jacksonville over a pair of weekends in late October. While the pace of progress was slow, there were additional questions from both ends, there were background checks and reference calls which filled the last couple of months. More calls and more questions. I've never been so thoroughly vetted for any position.
Then, just in the last few weeks of 2015, after literally months of seeking the Lord and getting to know one another, the committee invited us to come in view of a call. It was among the more difficult choices of my entire life. Not because we don't feel confident in going to Midland but because of our great love for our Central family and Jacksonville in general. This has been a home to us in ways we'd never have imagined, especially after Joshua's birth. You've loved us and welcomed us, treated with grace, compassion and kindness and walked with us through all manner of ups and downs. And yet, if I feel as strongly as I do about being called to Midland, however, and I refuse then I'm no good to CBC. Thus, I'm faced with the same choice I've presented to you many, many times - You can't go with God and stay where you are.
Thus, we go. With the joy of the Lord and the confidence of His call, we go. Without much knowledge of West Texas, we go. I've been to Midland only three times - once about 20 years ago, and the two trips this year. While I was born in El Paso (my father was based at Fort Bliss), I left west Texas when I was 6 mths old and have never lived west of Ft. Worth since then. I used to think of Weatherford as west Texas. And yet, here we go.
So what would I ask of you, my CBC family?
(1) Your prayers first of all. This is unchartered waters for us. We've never undertaken a transition quite like this one. We've got to sell our home. We've got to find a new home. We've got to gather our things. We've got lots of new names and places to learn. We've got to get Joshua enrolled at his new school. We need you to hold the rope on this end. Please pray for us, even if you're mad at us right now.
(2) Your encouragement. I'd be honored to be SENT to FBC by you as someone you're commissioning for that purpose. I know you're disappointed and rightly so. I don't blame you. I've been where you are as well. It's because we believe we're called and sent to this position.
(3) Your continued love and friendship. It will be some time before we come to love FBC the way we've come to love Central. We'll need to call home from time to time. It would mean so much to know we can.
(4) Your continued passion for Christ and His kingdom. You have a great staff and they'll pick up as if I'm still there. Your personnel committee is already working to make the transition as seamless as possible. Your deacons are awesome and will lead and love you as always. Keep loving one another and sharing His good news with Jacksonville. Keep making the name of Christ famous in Jacksonville, Cherokee County and east Texas. And know we're doing our best to the same from our new post.
You know what they say about living here - Once and Indian, always an indian. Indeed, that's true for us. May God's peace and grace guide each of us until we arrive home in His presence.